Bill Zanker's – Founder of The Learning Annex – Mr. Bill Zanker's Official Blog Site!

Bill Zanker – The Secrets of making money, connections, and a successful business!

Posted in Bill Zanker - The Learning Annex - Wealth Expo! by Bill Zanker on 06/15/2009
Bill Zanker - is The Learning Annex - President & Founder

Bill Zanker - is The Learning Annex - President & Founder

With the exception of Warren Buffett, Suze Orman, Donald Trump, George Foreman, White, and Tony Robbins, all of the main-stage speakers also do breakout sessions in adjacent ballrooms. At big shows, they might be on the hook for up to six over the two days. It’s a lot of work for a weekend, but their relationship with the Annex is symbiotic. Their lectures sprinkle nuggets of actionable information–enough so that you do, indeed, take away, say, a number of tips on how to get government grants from Chris “Free Money” Johnson, but not so much that you wouldn’t seriously consider picking up his book and DVD package, available for $700. (Packages can range up to $5,000 for some speakers, who spend the final 15 minutes or so of their allotted time on the main stage hawking said goods. All fees are, of course, shared with the Learning Annex.)

Nearly every time I checked out a breakout room, it was packed–though exactly how packed is determined by Harry Javer, acting as Bill Zanker‘s brain. Bill Zanker wants seminar attendees to feel that it’s difficult to get into a room. He likes to see long, snaking lines outside the doors. His room attendants are to wait until the last possible minute to open doors, and then customers are seated from front to back; rows are taped off until needed. “We’re keeping that idea of a hot restaurant,” Bill Zanker explains. “If you don’t get in, come back.”

Bill Zanker also likes his rooms icy cold. Heat makes crowds lethargic, and Bill Zanker hates lethargy. The Broward County Convention Center was warmer than he liked Friday, so he had Harry Javer harass the management until it was sufficiently chilly. By Saturday, it’s frigid. Employees hand out candy to people in line, and bowls of Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Rolls sit at the entrance to every room on the premises. Flats of candy are loaded in along with the amps and jumbo screens and loudspeakers.

“How many pounds of candy, Harry?” Bill Zanker asks.

“Thousands of pounds,” Harry Javer answers.

“Every time we give you a piece of candy, we’re connecting,” Bill Zanker says.

“It’s connection,” Harry Javer says.

The Learning Annex is far from the only company staging self-empowerment or personal-betterment seminars. The difference, says Bill Zanker, is that “nobody’s doing it on the scale we are. It takes big cojones to do what we do.” Cojones and a thick wallet–each show costs from $3 million to $5 million, including $500,000 to $2 million in advertising, which pays for a lot of billboards. Bill Zanker says that even a small show like Fort Lauderdale’s is profitable, just less so than a mega Expo like Los Angeles’s, which grosses more than $20 million. And the Learning Annex has figured out how to extend those profit streams, coming back to its customers later by targeting their specific interests. If foreclosure lectures, say, are a big hit, the Learning Annex will bring smaller, one-off seminars back to the city later.

“We’re the largest consumer show in the world,” Bill Zanker says, tossing out another of his grand boasts. “The knowledge we have is huge. We do 8,000 shows a year in the U.S. and Canada.”

Wait a second–8,000? Can I see your math?

“Every time someone speaks for us, it’s a show,” he says, meaning that he counts every Learning Annex class. “What is a show? It’s an experience.”

As I said, this isn’t the first time Bill Zanker has owned the Learning Annex. He was in his late twenties and had enrolled himself in film school–having returned from 10 years of living in Israel, where he served in the military, earned himself a passport, and started a real estate business–when his dad called him to lunch and said, “Get a job. I’m not paying for this anymore.” Score one for tough love. “And I like school,” Bill Zanker explains. “I would go to school for the rest of my life.” That gave him an idea: The original Learning Annex would be a film school. He asked his former teachers if they would moonlight. His girlfriend at the time was studying pottery, so he invited her teacher to teach a class, too.

This was 1980. Bill Zanker took $5,000, printed up some catalogs, and ran the whole thing out of his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He added classes whenever an idea struck him–gardening, guitars, tantric sex–and ran into a young and mostly unknown guy named Tony Robbins, who signed up to teach fire-walking. “I picked him,” Bill Zanker says. “I’m a self-help junkie. I read self-help books, even as a kid. I just love them.”

Robbins at the time was just starting to develop a name. “That’s what we do at the Learning Annex,” Bill Zanker says. “We get them before they become famous.” Deepak Chopra gave his first talk for the Learning Annex in front of 36 people.

Robbins, Chopra, psychic Sylvia Browne–Is Bill Zanker some sort of self-help talent scouting savant? He found Chopra by browsing in a bookstore. “A lot of the books in the self-help section, they’re not getting widely read,” he says. “I can’t help it. I go right to them. I’ll take the name down and call the office.”

Do people ever say no?

“No is just the beginning of yes.”

You don’t accept a no?

“Never take no. We teach people to never take no for an answer.”

The first time around, Bill Zanker owned the Learning Annex for 11 years. He says he sold it because he was “ready for a change.” That may be true, but it’s also true that he expanded too fast, and the company went bankrupt despite annual revenue of $8 million to $10 million. He sold it to his San Francisco business partner, Stephen Seligman.

For the next 10 years, Bill Zanker dabbled in other entrepreneurial ventures, most prominent among them the Great American Backrub, which New Yorkers might remember as a short-lived storefront operation offering bargain back rubs. At its peak, GAB had 18 stores, but Bill Zanker‘s plan for muscle-rubbing domination was foiled by a lack of quality masseurs willing to work for the low wages that made McBackrubs possible, and by Asian-owned nail salons that practically gave the things away.

Eventually, after some fits and starts and travels with his wife and three children–he started an online learning venture called Brainfuel, sold it to Tony Robbins for $9 million, and took his family on a three-year walkabout–Bill Zanker found himself wondering about the old company. He’d never really stopped talking to Seligman, and after September 11, his old partner was getting antsy. “He called me up and said, ‘If you’re not working, can you pop in and help me out?'” Bill Zanker recalls. “So I started going into the office, and I was jazzed again. I remembered the energy, the fun…and then I offered to buy it. And he didn’t want to sell, so I overpaid to buy it back. In hindsight it was cheap, but I overpaid just because I wanted it.”

Seligman, who maintains a small stake, says the price was fair and that, anyway, Bill Zanker had developed a vision that couldn’t be denied. He says Bill Zanker was talking about a billion-dollar business long before he hit $100 million. “When he first told me that, it seemed pie-in-the-sky,” Seligman says. “It seemed like a daunting goal to even talk about. But that’s part of his motivation–he creates goals for himself that are way above the average person. It doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.”

“I think what Tony is, he pushes you past your limitations, and that’s what we look for,” Bill Zanker is saying. “Because everyone thinks, This is what I can do. And Tony says, ‘No, you can do more’–and if you buy into that, what a great thing to get out of the Learning Annex. The Learning Annex went from $5 million to $107 million in less than four years. You can’t do that if you have limitations.”

If it isn’t already obvious, Bill Zanker is positively crazy for Tony Robbins. He listens to tapes of Robbins on his drive to his train station in Westchester County and in 2006 attended a six-day “Date With Destiny” seminar, which featured 14 hours of Tony Robbins per day. He credits Robbins with–all together now–Changing His Life. Making him a better husband and father, helping him lose weight, even making possible the deal with Donald Trump, without which there would be no Expos.

As Bill Zanker tells the story, he rang up the Donald’s office and got the secretary, who refused to put him through. When she asked what business he had with Mr. Trump, Bill Zanker replied that he wanted to book him as a speaker and was willing to pay $10,000. Not interested, she said. “She didn’t even bother to ask him,” Bill Zanker recalls. So he called back and upped his offer to $50,000. When he told me this story he was sitting on a chair in his office, but as the story’s momentum built he hopped up onto the seat and assumed a squatting position. Bill Zanker offered $150,000, at which point the secretary said–still having yet to relay any of these opportunities to her boss–“Donald makes a lot of money. Make him a reasonable offer.”

“I just went crazy,” Bill Zanker says. “I took a walk, went to the bathroom, and offered $1 million.” Robbins, he says, gave him the strength to do something so bold. “Not three minutes later my cell rings. It’s Donald himself. He said, ‘How many people can you get?’ I said 500 or 1,000.” Not enough for Trump. “He said, ‘You promise me 10,000, and I’ll do the deal.’ He never once mentioned the money.” The deal that was eventually signed gives Trump $30 million for 20 appearances.

I promised Bill Zanker that if I did one thing at the Florida Expo, I would watch Robbins perform. He says it is the moment in the Expo–the end of Day One–when people go from hoping they will become rich to knowing it’s going to happen.

“He’s America’s success coach!” says the emcee, and then Bill Zanker sprints onstage and howls his introduction in front of a giant image of Robbins’s head. “There has never been a speaker like Tony Robbins. He changes lives! He changed my life!”

Out comes Robbins, full throttle, his black baggy pants billowing in front of AC units that blast the stage. He is a large man, but his presence is positively massive. “I’m not a big believer in positive thinking,” he says. “I do believe in energy.”

In print, most of what Robbins says comes off as hokey:

The ultimate resource is human emotions. It’s not resources; it’s resourcefulness.

Whatever your limits are, they’re self-imposed. They’re not physiological; they’re not financial.

I want to scoff at the guy, but I have to say I find it uplifting. So many of Robbins’s ideas are obvious–Momentum is the key to everything: Depressed people get more depressed; happy people get more happy–but when they are delivered by him via his Jedi mind tricks, they make you feel better.

“The most important skill is influence. The person you most need to influence is yourself,” he continues, moving on to the idea that will most stick with me. “Emotion is the secret, but emotion is created by motion. The more you move, the more alive you are.” Robbins’s show is built around audience participation, and his way of illustrating this last point is to have audience members jump up and down, shaking limbs and screaming at the top of their lungs. It is impossible to hold on to negativity after doing this; just try it. I think back to the trampoline.

Robbins calls this the “peak state”–on an emotional scale of one to 10, the peak state is in the eight to 10 range–and he urges us to think of triggers that will recall this state. When you’re feeling troubled or need a little boost, use a trigger. Bill Zanker says his is to hit his chest. Before he called Trump’s secretary to offer the $1 million, he says, “I went to the bathroom, changed my state, and called back.”

“If you only did one thing,” screams Robbins, “do everything at state 8, 9, 10–you will change your life.”

Wealth, my friends, is a feeling. It’s not a dollar amount.

“I’m a passionate guy; I love to see people glowing,” Robbins tells me backstage, toweling sweat off his face. And how does he fit into this celebration of wealth? “I want to take them from ‘I want to get rich’ to ‘I want an extraordinary life.’

“Tonight is designed to trigger them, to inspire them to change. This is my mission.”

And Bill Zanker–has Robbins’s mojo worked on him?

Robbins flashes a big, toothy, billion-dollar smile.

“He’s radically different than he used to be–you should ask him.”

If tony Robbins is the emotional center of the Expo, then Donald Trump is its exuberant encore. In Fort Lauderdale, he’s scheduled to go on at 6 p.m. on Day Two, but the reality is that the Donald takes the mike whenever he feels like it. He arrives at the Convention Center in the late afternoon and spends some time visiting backstage, posing for photos with the Ambassadors of Fun. Meanwhile, the jumbo screens begin to flash “Trump is in THE HOUSE!!!” (their caps, not mine), and the crowd actually seems to buzz. At 7 p.m., Bill Zanker chokes down some water, musters the last remnants of his voice, and dashes onstage for the capstone of his weekend: “I gotta tell you, the next speaker is my hero,” he yells. “He is a brilliant entrepreneur. But whatever he does, it’s quality. I just signed a book deal with Donald backstage. Imagine that: I’m a small-business owner, and Donald took my business and built it into one of the fastest-growing companies in America according to Inc. magazine!” (His plug, not mine, and he’s right: The Learning Annex is a two-time Inc. 500 company.)

BILL ZANKER – Links!  Meet me!  Read About me!  I am on everything you can think of! – You are welcome to My Circle of Competence!

The Learning Annex – Bill Zanker’s Wikipedia

BILL ZANKERs Wikipedia!


City File – Bill Zanker

StumbleUpOn – Bill Zanker’s Official Stumble Upon Page – Find out what makes him tick!

TWITTER!  Bill Zanker – Official Bil

l Zanker Twitter Account!

YOUTUBE!  Bill Zanker – Official YouTube Channel!

Bill Zanker on LINKEDIN!

BILL ZANKER MYSPACE!  Personal – Official Channel!

Jon Romano, Bill Zanker & The Learning Annex! Read The SECRETS  Bill Zanker!

Bill Zanker Free Press Release – Written About Bill Zanker – from INC MAGAZINE!

Bill Zanker & Jon Romano – Free Press Release on Bill Zanker!

Bill Zanker & The Money Fest Expo

Bill Zanker Official Website!


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